Football a Family Affair for 2nd-Generation Star Whitney Issik

Mark StaffieriContributor IIMay 29, 2013

Image from Candice Ward Photography
Image from Candice Ward Photography

With multiple generations of family members competing in football, WWCFL's Whitney Issik has the game in her blood.

Although she is in her forties, the athletic Issik is far from being a late bloomer. She brings a youthful enthusiasm to the gridiron as a defensive back with the Calgary Rage of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League.

“Well, I actually wanted to play since I was kid. My dad played junior and was fortunate to get recruited to the United States on a football scholarship. Don Coryell recruited my dad to play in the States. My brother also played football at Henry Wise Wood high school. I had to wait for 44 years, but I got the chance to play. I have been playing for five years and I am so excited. It is what I always wanted to do.”

Having coached her sons in their youth, Issik is very knowledgeable about the game. In serving with the Calgary Bantam Football Association, she won the 2007 Don Henderson Memorial Award as Team Manager of the Year.

Her sons, Alex and Andy, both maintained family tradition and competed at Henry Wise Wood. Alex attended the Alberta Golden Bears spring camp in 2009. He was also part of the Southern Alberta Under-17 All-Star team that played in the Football Canada Cup U17 Division in 2007. There is no question that their success in football was attributed to the support of their mother.

“My boys played minor football and in high school. When they went through minor football, I was fortunate to be the team manager and later, a coach.”

Currently, her two sons compete with the Calgary Gators semi-pro club while contributing to the Rage as defensive back coaches. For Whitney, football is truly a family affair, an aspect that enriches the experience of competing in the WWCFL.

“They are my sons, and I love it. When they were kids, they were on the field and I was the coach. Now, I am on the field and they get to coach.  Football is really a family thing for all of us. You cannot walk around the house and not have cleats in one room. It is weird to not have football pads on the front porch.”

Although Issik is one of several mothers that competes in the WWCFL, it is an experience that helps make the league unique. Of note, one teammate on the Rage made quite the impression on Issik.

“We have one player (Kora-Lea Hooker) who had a baby in February 2013. It was a great experience seeing her play at our annual Jamboree. She was feeding her baby in between games. She is not just a new mom, but a heck of a good football player!”

Employing acumen, Issik is one of the leaders on the Rage. While she may be the oldest player on the roster, her skill and ability indicate that she is only improving with age. Although there are several women in the WWCFL (and on the Canadian National Team) that are over the age of 30, Issik finds that age is treated uniquely in the league.

“Out on the football field, we do not notice the differences in age. It is kind of unique. There is no sort of pecking order based on age. Our game is based on skill and not on age. It is a pretty interesting sport. There is a lot of training, and it is a great time commitment but a great way to blow off steam, a wonderful activity.”

One topic that was discussed with Issik was the reality of injuries. While injuries exist in all competitive sports that women are involved with (hockey, soccer, softball, basketball), Issik brushes off their impact in the WWCFL.

“I have had minor things, like broken fingers. Looking at injuries in women’s football, it is not more numerous than you would find in soccer. Compare it to men’s football—it is not more common. In men’s football, they have at least 40 players on one team, whereas women have 30 or less, so injuries can have more of an impact.”

Having participated prior to the inception of the WWCFL, Issik has witnessed a tremendous amount of growth in the sport. While there is still remarkable room for the WWCFL to develop and grow, Issik is impressed with the quantum leap that the budding league has undertaken in only three seasons.

“In the first year I played, there was only Calgary and Edmonton and we played a couple of games. There was a team called the Rockies, and they never even played. There was also a team in Winnipeg we were aware of. The league is three years old now and we have nine teams. The growth is incredible. It is a lot more fun.”

Complemented by the growth of the game is the knowledge that sports fans (especially male fans) have discovered that women participate on the gridiron. With Canada’s Prairie region (Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan) producing some of the finest women’s football players, Issik is quick to point out how roots are taking shape.

“Up north in Grande Prairie, there is a girls’ high school football league. Many of them are now starting to play football in our league. Although people should know more about us, it is great that actual people within the sport are starting to know each other.”

The opportunity to know other members of the growing women’s football community presented itself at the 2012 National Challenge Cup in Laval, Quebec. Issik participated with Team Alberta, along with several other Rage teammates. Competing with her on the squad were Susan Childress, Kait DiNunzio, Alanna Doyle, Lisa Gomes, Annie Tremblay and Erin Walton. Although the squad finished winless, there were many positive memories for Issik.

“It was great. We got to play against the Maritimes; the players from Quebec, we had never met them before. On Team Manitoba, some of the players we knew there. It was really fun.”

While Issik is one of the star players that has transformed the franchise’s culture into one built on mutual respect and a sincere enjoyment of the game, she is quick to recognize the hard work of the coaching staff. As many competitors in the WWCFL have athletic backgrounds in other sports, a strong coaching staff is essential in transforming a raw, talented athlete into a capable competitor on the gridiron.

“We picked up a remarkable coaching staff this year. It is quite remarkable to take some fantastic women athletes that never played and make them very good football players. We have coaches who can teach, and it is exciting.”

As the Rage look towards a strong finish in 2013, Issik is confident that the squad has all the pieces in place. While the first couple of seasons in the WWCFL resulted in postseason heartbreak, Issik believes that the squad has learned from its past and is prepared towards a greater future.

“This year, we have the intensity and the desire to win. Compared to other years, we have confidence. We have developed a core group that has carried us through for a few seasons. We have gone from being teenagers to adults. It is a long way to winning a championship. Individuals do not win championships—teams win championships. We are very mature and are truly a team right now.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”